KTTH OPINION

Rantz: King County sheriff directs deputies to ignore Burien encampment ban

Mar 8, 2024, 2:16 PM | Updated: 7:33 pm

Photo: A homeless encampment in Burien....

A homeless encampment in Burien. (Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

(Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

The appointed King County sheriff instructed her deputies to ignore an updated Burien ordinance that prohibits a homeless encampment within 500 feet of locations with vulnerable populations, such as schools and parks. She did not inform city officials, leading the mayor to accuse her department of acting politically.

Citing concerns over the constitutionality of the ordinance, King County Sheriff Patti Cole-Tindall directed deputies Friday morning to not enforce the ordinance.

“We have strong concerns on whether the terms of this ordinance are constitutional, based on the existing legal authority,” Cole-Tindall said.

“I do not want any of you to find yourself in a situation where you are asked or expected to do something that could violate legally-established rights,” she wrote in an email. “I am directing you that we will not enforce this particular section of the Burien Municipal Code (BMC 9.85.150) until the constitutionality of the public camping ordinance is resolved.

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Cole-Tindall did not inform Burien city officials, including Mayor Kevin Schilling, of the decision. Councilmembers were reportedly caught off guard, some first learning about the memo when The Jason Rantz Show on KTTH reached out for comment.

“The City of Burien pays millions of dollars to the King County Sheriff’s Department with the expectation that they will enforce our city codes and laws to keep the community safe and publicly accessible for all,” Schilling said in a statement to The Jason Rantz Show on KTTH. “Right now, the Dow Constantine appointed sheriff is prioritizing politics over public safety.”

It’s unclear if Cole-Tindall made the announcement at the behest of King County Executive Dow Constantine, who appointed her to the position.

“All criminal code violations, except for the public camping ordinance, should continue to be enforced as you go about your duties,” Cole-Tindall concluded in her email.

The executive has not been supportive of the city’s recent moves to address the growing homelessness crisis. Constantine does not support sweeps.

The executive’s office responded to The Jason Rantz Show on KTTH.

“The sheriff’s office informed our office this morning about their decision to await a legal and constitutional review of the new ordinance,” wrote the executive’s office.

The sheriff’s office also sent a statement.

“As noted by Sheriff Cole-Tindall this morning, the sheriff’s office has consulted with our legal team and we have strong concerns on whether the terms of this ordinance are constitutional, based on the existing legal authority, the sheriff’s office wrote. “The sheriff sent a message today to the city outlining our decision to not enforce this particular section of the Burien Municipal Code (BMC 9.85.150), until the constitutionality of the public camping ordinance is resolved.”

While this was not the case for this ordinance, in the past the city has worked with us when new ordinances require the enforcement efforts of KCSO. The quick turnaround from draft language appearing on Friday and then passage Monday with no outreach or chance for input was unusual,” the sheriff’s office added.

Suspicious timing from Sheriff Patti Cole-Tindall?

Mayor Schilling suspects the timing of the directive to stop enforcement of its ordinance is not coincidental.

Burien’s city manager emailed the sheriff on Thursday. He said the city is “concerned” that her department is skirting its duties around homelessness services outlined in its interlocal agreement (ILA) with Burien for political reasons. He was seeking a meeting to air out the city’s concerns.

“Burien is concerned about an ongoing practice by the King County Sheriff’s Office to evade its responsibilities to the City of Burien due to internal and external factors that are not explicitly stated within the existing ILA: KCSO ‘policy;’ external political influence, as demonstrated through a letter authored by the office of the King County Executive that denied services described in the ILA (May 19, 2023),” the city manager wrote.

Cole-Tindall responded Friday at 10:08 a.m., according to a copy of the email obtained by the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH. She asked for the city “to provide examples of where you believe the KCSO is evading our responsibilities under the ILA.”

She sent her directive to deputies at 10:52 a.m.

“Burien is already wanting to examine our Interlocal Agreement with KCSO, as well as putting a public safety levy on the ballot,” Schilling explained to the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH. “This situation will only expedite those discussions and begin conversations for how the City of Burien can receive services more specifically catered to our needs and our funding streams.”

Deputy Mayor of Burien, Stephanie Mora, also weighed in on the controversy to The Jason Rantz Show on KTTH.

“We need a police department that can actually work collaboratively with our city and not bow down to outside political forces. It’s time that we take this to the voters of Burien and pass a public safety levy to create our own police department. We need to enforce the laws created by the city council that the voters of Burien elected so that our city can thrive,” Mora said.

Burien’s city manager responded with the following email on Friday afternoon:

“I learned recently of the directive issued by you to the Burien Police Department that places KCSO in breach of the ILA and its contractual obligation to the City of Burien. Please accept this email as notice of my intent to address this breach of the ILA through the Oversight Committee.  Notice of your decision and KCSO’s violation of the ILA has already been sent to the Chair of the Oversight Committee for review and action. Also, please note that my team and I will now commence to explore the process of withhold payment for services due to KCSO’s egregious violation of a longstanding contract with the City of Burien.”

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Encampment ban follows resident and business concerns

The Burien city council considered the new homeless encampment legislation, Ordinance 832, as an “emergency ordinance” because of the health and public safety implications it built upon a previous version that barred camping on public property. The ordinance offers an exception for instances between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m. when there are no beds or shelters available. Residents have indicated that the homeless are harassing children or sometimes using drugs in front of them. The ordinance passed 5-2, despite coordinated activist opposition.

The ordinance, while seemingly supported by residents, faced fierce opposition by a small group of activists. Two former city councilmembers, Cydney Moore and Krystal Marx, have been some of the loudest voices opposing efforts to bring the homeless into shelter. Moore lost her most re-election. Marx lost both her re-election bid and a separate bid to rejoin the council.

“By and large, this looks like a way to essentially zone people out of the city entirely,” Moore told KIRO Newsradio.

Moore voted against the original camping ban before losing her re-election.

Update: It was originally written the sheriff’s office and executive’s office did not respond for comment. After the story was posted each sent a statement, as shared in this story.

Update: After this story gained traction, the sheriff explained her decision in an email to the council.

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